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Battling the elements: Wind-swept grass fires plague county before storm hits

Staff writer

Nancy Tharp has been a victim of several grass fires at her home outside of Marion. She’s careful to prevent fires during fire weather watches, such as the one Tuesday afternoon, caused by warm, dry air and strong winds in advance of a cold front.

“I don’t even take chances with this stuff,” she said. “I don’t run the dryer, I don’t light candles — not when it’s a 45-minute drive to here and the dew point’s so low. I just put on a bunch of layers and deal with it.”

However, at 2:05 p.m. Tuesday, an inactive wood burning stove malfunctioned and set fire to hay bales on her property at 170th and Bluestem Rds. The fire spread to pasture land between 180th and 160th Rds. and burned until almost 6 p.m.

Marion, Florence, Peabody, and Burns firefighters responded, as well as firefighters from Butler County and Chase County. They also paged Marion County Taskforce, Goessel, Hillsboro, Lost Springs, and Lincolnville firefighters.

On instruction from county commission vice chair Dave Crofoot, Emergency Management director Randy Frank declared a state of emergency to have two aircraft from the Kansas Forestry Service and several helicopters from Fort Riley pour water on the blaze. The forestry service left to handle a large fire in Morris County after two passes.

The majority of affected property was owned by Melanie and Larry Ensey and their son, county attorney Joel Ensey, who had cattle with young calves grazing at the time.

Melanie herded the cattle and patrolled the edge of the fire on an ATV during the worst of the blaze.

“It was kind of scary, with all this wind,” Melanie said.

Joel’s machinery shed was still under threat at 6 p.m. from remains of the fire. He mowed around it so firefighters could start a controlled burn nearby.

Other fires Tuesday included a grass fire along railroad tracks near Kanza and 320th Rd., attended by Durham firefighters with Tampa fire standing by; a fire in Butler County attended to by Burns firefighters; and a rekindling in the 400 block of N. Pine St. in Peabody, attended by Peabody firefighters.

Three other grass fires were battled Thursday night and Friday morning by six county fire departments.

A grass fire reported at 9:29 p.m. Thursday near 240th and Eagle Rds. was battled for three hours by firefighters from Hillsboro, Lehigh, and Durham.

A ditch and field fire reported at 6:20 a.m. Friday at 240th and Pawnee Rds. was battled for about an hour by firefighters from Marion and Lincolnville.

A small fire in a ditch at 120th and Eagle Rds. quickly was extinguished by Goessel firefighters after being reported at 9:40 a.m. Friday.

Last modified Feb. 16, 2022

 

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